The Greater Poland Uprising of 1918–1919, or Wielkopolska Uprising of 1918–1919 (Polish: powstanie wielkopolskie 1918–19 roku; German: Großpolnischer Aufstand) or Posnanian War was a military insurrection of Poles in the Greater Poland region (also called by the Germans the Grand Duchy of Poznań or Provinz Posen region) against Germany. The uprising had a significant effect on the Treaty of Versailles, which granted a reconstituted Poland the area won by the Polish insurgents plus some additional territory, most of which had been part of Poland before the partitions.
At the end of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points met with opposition from European nations standing to lose power or territory. German politicians had signed an armistice leading to a cease fire on 11 November 1918, with the Western and former Eastern front lines outside of Germany. Germany had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with BolshevikRussia to settle the eastern frontiers. This Treaty did not take into account the millions of Poles living in what had been their territory which was in the middle. Therefore, from the date that the armistice was signed until the Treaty of Versailles was fully ratified in January 1920, many territorial and sovereignty issues remained unresolved.
Wilson's proposal for an independent Poland did not definitively set borders for Poland that could be universally accepted. Most of the part of Poland partitioned and annexed to Prussia in the late 18th century was still part of Germany at the close of World War I, with the rest of the subsequent post–World War I Polish territory being part of Russia and of Austria-Hungary. The portion which was part of Germany included the Provinz Posen, or territory of Greater Poland, of which Poznań (Posen) was a major industrial city. The majority of the population was Polish (more than 60%) and was uncertain whether they would be repatriated within the proposed recreated Polish state.
Soldiers and workers assembling to elect a council in Poznan on 10 November 1918
In late 1918 Poles with hopes for a sovereign Poland began serious preparations for an uprising after Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication on 9 November 1918, which marked the end of the German monarchy, which would be replaced by the Weimar Republic.
The uprising broke out on 27 December 1918 in Poznań, after a patriotic speech by Ignacy Paderewski, Polish prime minister at that time, and a famous pianist.
The uprising forces consisted of members of the Polish Military Organization of the Prussian Partition, who started to form the Straż Obywatelska (Citizen's Guard), later renamed as Straż Ludowa (People's Guard) and many volunteers—mainly veterans of World War I. The first contingent to reach the Bazar Hotel where the uprising broke out was a 100-strong force from wildecka kompania Straży Ludowej (Wilda’s People’s Guard) led by Antoni Wysocki. The ruling body was the Naczelna Rada Ludowa (Supreme People's Council)—at the beginning members of the Council were against the uprising, but supported it a few days later: unofficially 3 January 1919; officially 8 and 9 January 1919—and the military commanders: Captain Stanisław Taczak (promoted to major, temporary commander 28 December 1918 – 8 January 1919) and later General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki.
The timing of the uprising was fortuitous for the insurgents, as between October 1918 and the first months of 1919, internal conflict had weakened Germany, with soldiers and sailors engaged in mutinous actions against the monarchy and the officer corps. Demoralized by the signing of an armistice on 11 November 1918, the new German government was further embroiled in subduing the German Revolution.
By 15 January 1919, the Polish forces took control of most of the Province of Posen, and engaged in heavy fighting with the regular German army and the forces of the Grenzschutz, up until the renewal of the truce between the Entente and Germany on 16 February, which affected the Wielkopolska or Posen Province part of the front line. Skirmishes continued, however, until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.
The uprising had a significant effect on the Versailles decisions, which granted Poland not only the area won by the insurgents, but a portion of the Province of Pomerania, as well as a few cities which lay beyond the demarcation line: Bydgoszcz, Leszno (then respectively Bromberg and Lissa), as well as Rawicz (the Polish Corridor). Some of them were predominantly German, others predominantly Polish. The riots also influenced the decision to have popular votes in Silesia, where the public was allowed to vote whether it wanted to be part of the German or Polish state.
Germany's territorial losses following the Treaty of Versailles incited German revanchism, and created problems such that the status of the independent Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor between East Prussia and the rest of Germany became an issue in German politics. Attending to the issues was part of Adolf Hitler's political platform, obviously with a strong bias towards Germany. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Poland refused several German proposals for popular referendums, population transfers, highway projects and customs union reform.
The Citizens' Guard (Straż Obywatelska), renamed a few days later to The People's Guard (Straż Ludowa) comes out from the underground. The Mayor of Poznań (Posen) Ernst Wilms is removed from office. German military authorities give permission for functioning of the People's Guard to keep peace in the Province of Posen.
Commission of the High People's Council calls citizens of German portion of Poland to keep calm in spite of the revolution.
"Assassination on City Hall": as it was dominated by Germans, the Execution Department of Worker's and Soldier's Council proceeded to Poznań's City Hall, an armed group of Poles forced them to change four of the German Delegates with Poles: Bohdan Hulewicz, Mieczysław Paluch, Henryk Śniegocki and Zygmunt Wiza. Due to this event, Poles gain control over the headquarters of Poznań Garrison and 5th Corps.
17 November 1918: Commission of NRL calls for a one-time collection of money called a "national tax".
18 November 1918: elections to Poviat's People's Councils and members of the Partition's Sejm (1399 MPs).
20 November 1918: in exposé of the Polish government in Warsaw: przyłączenie Wielkopolski będzie jednym z pierwszych naszych zadań (the joining of Greater Poland will be one of our first tasks).
3 December 1918: The Partition Sejm of Poznań began official proceedings, in building of the "Apollo" Cinema. MPs were representing all lands of the Prussian Partition and Polish economic emigration, mainly from Westfalen.
5 December 1918: end of the Partition Sejm, which declared it's wanting of unification with the other partitions in a renationalized Poland and with NRL officially electing its members.
Commission of NRL takes all civil and military authority without declaring territorial range of this power. It also promotes General Józef Dowbor-Muśnicki to commander-in-chief of uprising forces.
Poles recapture Chodzież (Battle of Chodzież) and Czarnków. They also win Battle of Ślesin and capture Sieraków.
9 January 1919
NRL officially announces taking control over Greater Poland. Beginning of polonisation of administration, most former anti-Polish officials are fired. In Poviats, German landrats are subordinated to Polish starostas, which in future takes all their power.
17 January 1919: Men born in years 1897, 1898, and 1899 are called up and drafted into Great Polish Army.
20 January 1919: transfer of money to banks of the German Reich on other side of front line is forbidden.
21 January 1919
NRL creates oath of soldiers of Great Polish Army.
Evidence of false information about Polish attacks on German civilians published by authorities in Berlin, suggesting behavior like that of Germans themselves, is sent to Paris. Contemporaneously, NRL appeals to Allies asking for a military mission, suggesting the possibility of the Great Polish Army fighting against Bolsheviks. Many articles about the situation in Greater Poland appear in Western newspapers.
22 January 1919
Northern front: Poles are forced to leave Potulice.
29 January 1919: Roman Dmowski gives speech in front of Highest Council of Allied Countries in which he asserts Polish rights to the Prussian Partition, and accusing Germans of two-faced policies.
2 February 1919: beginning of Polish-German talks in Berlin.
3 February 1919: Poles stop German offensive on northern front. Their counterattack forces German withdrawal to northern bank of Noteć river. Poles recapture Rynarzewo and win Battle of Kcynia.
4 February 1919
Poles recapture Szubin; heavy fighting on southern front near Rawicz.
Beginning of talks between Polish government in Warsaw with Commission of NRL about representation of Greater Poland in Sejm Ustawodawczy.
5 February 1919: Failure of talks in Berlin. German conditions were: demobilisation of Great Polish Army, recognition by Poland of German claims to Greater Poland and payment by Polish side for all damage made during uprising. In spite of this, Entente still remarks that both sides are ready for peace talks.
6 February 1919: end of talks about representation of Prussian Partition in Sejm Ustawodawczy. With regard to fact that Greater Poland, Cuiavia, Silesia and Pomerania are still officially part of Reich, to avoid international repercussions, Polish government and NRL decide to resign from planned election of 126 MPs, giving temporary right of representation of Prussian Partition to 16 MPs of Reichstag.
7 February 1919
Heavy fighting in Kolno, which was captured many times by both sides.
20 March 1919: Ostmarkenzulage—special allowance for German officials working in eastern provinces, which aimed to stimulate German colonization of Prussian Partition, is canceled.
23 March 1919: Poles win landslide in election of City Council of Poznań.
24 March 1919: Commission of NRL ask Polish Government in Warsaw to create separate administration of ex-Prussian Partition, as it is far more developed than rest of the country. Ignacy Paderewski forces government to leave all power in hands of NRL in those lands till final recognition of Polish-German border, and in future creation of autonomy of those lands (after all only Upper Silesia received it). NRL mobilises men born in 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894 and 1901.
5 April 1919: Sejm Ustawodawczy announces by-elections in ex-Province of Posen for next 42 MPs.
9 April 1919: Commission of NRL decrees 8-hour workday in industry and trade.
10 April 1919: Commission of NRL decrees removing all signs in German language from offices and train stations, and changes all streets names into Polish. Punishment for breaking this law was two years of prison and 10,000 Polish marks.
16 April 1919: NRL decides that 3 May will be national holiday.
Rising threat of German offensive induces Commission of NRL to introduce state of emergency in all lands under its jurisdiction, and in a belt of 20 km from the front line it introduces martial law. A few days later, NRL announces penalty of death for acting against Great Polish Army or in interest of German Army.
9 July 1919: outside of 20 km belt near front, state of emergency is canceled.
10 July 1919: proceedings of Polish Government with whole Commission of NRL about further policy in Former Prussian Partition (Były Zabór Pruski). Decision taken about creation of Ministry of Former Prussian Partition (Ministerstwo Byłej Dzielnicy Pruskiej).
1 August 1919: Sejm Ustawodawczy votes on resolution about "Temporary organisation of government in former Prussian Partition" (O tymczasowej organizacji zarządu byłej dzielnicy pruskiej), creating Ministry of Former Prussian Partition and plan of gradual unification of Great Poland with rest of country.
12 August 1919: Władysław Seyda becomes first Minister of Former Prussian Partition.
19 August 1919: NRL is dissolved.
22 August 1919: Polish uprising in Sejny against Lithuanian authorities. The uprising receives support from the regular Polish army, forcing Lithuania to retreat.
27-29 August 1919: Failed attempt by Józef Piłsudski to overthrow the Lithuanian government through coup d'etat and join Lithuania to Poland. Lithuanian authorities uncovered the planned coup after increased scrutiny following the Sejny uprising, and arrested the plotters. The incident further strained Polish-Lithuanian relations.
28 August 1919: Headquarters of Polish Army issues daily order No. 216 in which Great Polish Army is amalgamated with Polish Army, and its Headquarters are transformed to Headquarters of 7th Corps.
6 November 1919: Commission of NRL is dissolved.
10 January 1920: ratification of Treaty of Versailles, according to which Polish forces in Great Poland should take control over small pieces of Great Poland's territories given to Poland that are resisting under German control and Eastern Pomerania.
13 January 1920: Headquarters of Great Poland front issues orders for preparation of implementation of Treaty of Versailles.
17 January 1920: beginning of occupation of remaining German held territories assigned to Poland under Versailles treaty.
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